“See that you do not look down on one of these little ones. For I tell you that their angels in heaven always see the face of my Father in heaven.
“What do you think? If a man owns a hundred sheep, and one of them wanders away, will he not leave the ninety-nine on the hills and go to look for the one that wandered off? And if he finds it, I tell you the truth, he is happier about that one sheep than about the ninety-nine that did not wander off. In the same way your Father in heaven is not willing that any of these little ones should be lost.”
“Little ones” have appeared several times already in this chapter.Matthew tells us that Jesus set a “little child” (verse 2) in front of the disciples and told them they needed to become like “little children” (verse 3) to enter the kingdom, using the same Greek word each time. He repeats that word (verse 5), telling us that if we welcome such a “child,” we welcome Jesus himself.
He then shifts and uses a longer phrase to speak of “these little ones” (verses 6, 10, 14), referring to all those who have entered the kingdom. That includes you and me if we’ve placed faith in Jesus. This is our identity: “little ones” trusting Jesus for entry into the kingdom.
Jesus spoke woe to anyone who “causes one of these little ones” to stumble (verse 6). Now, in our current portion, he tells the parable of a shepherd and his sheep, helping us to understand the Father’s passionate pursuit of any “little one” who goes astray.
The shepherd has one hundred sheep, ninety-nine of whom are safe and secure on the hillside. But one is missing. So, the shepherd, not content simply with the ninety-nine safely in the fold, goes off in search of the one who’s lost. He finds it, rescues it, brings it back to the fold, and rejoices greatly.
That’s like your Father, Jesus says. When a sheep – one of “these little ones” – is caused to stumble into sin, the Father himself goes out of his way to win it back. He “is not willing that any of these little ones should perish.”
What incredible security this gives. Yes, we need to beware of “the things that cause people to sin” (verse 7). Yes, we are instructed to cut-off avenues that lead us into sin. But if we stumble, we have a Father in heaven who is eager to win us back, to rescue us when we have “wandered off,” and to set us right once again. We are dearly loved. We are in his sights. He is not willing that we should stay lost.
Indeed, Jesus prefaces this parable by saying, “See that you do not look down on one of these little ones.” Remember: in the context these “little ones” have stumbled and wandered off. It might be someone in our fellowship group or church, a family member or dearly loved friend. It may, in fact, be us. Our tendency might be to condemn – to look askance at the one who has stumbled, to separate ourselves from them. Or if we’re the one who has wandered, we might be overwhelmed by the heavy load of condemnation settling on our shoulders.
But Jesus says don’t look down on such a “little one.” Instead, see them in the clearly shining light of this parable. Such a one is of immense value to the Father. Like a shepherd, he seeks them out. He works hard, for as long as it takes. And when he finds them, he rejoices with a joy that exceeds even the joy he has in the ninety-nine who are safe and secure (whom he loves passionately!).
So, remember the story. Don’t forget. Know the Father’s love for those who stumble. Know his unceasing love for you.
Father, praise you for your unending love! Thank you that you care for me like a shepherd cares for the sheep. Hold me safe and secure. I look to you. Amen.
Pause: Take time to simply sit in the caring embrace of your Father, your Shepherd.